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Ready to Relish: Joan Osborne to take new spin on old favorites at the Garde 

Joan Osborne plays at the Garde on Friday, May 13 at 8 p.m. For tickets and more information visit https://gardearts.org/events/joan-osborne-madeleine-peyroux/.

Joan Osborne plays at the Garde on Friday, May 13 at 8 p.m. For tickets and more information visit https://gardearts.org/events/joan-osborne-madeleine-peyroux/.

All Eyes Media

After postponing a date at the Garde Arts Center in New London last fall, Grammy-nominated Joan Osborne is ready to rock again this Friday, May 13. 

The event, which is co-presented with The Kate, will include re-imagined hits from Osborne’s multi-Grammy-nominated album “Relish.” She will also be joined by American jazz singer and songwriter Madeleine Peyroux.

It’s been quite the journey since the woman AllMusic.com declared “the most gifted vocalist of her generation” moved from small-town Kentucky to attend NYU film school in the 1980s. Osborne’s astounding voice drew attention when she joined the fun at open mic nights in downtown clubs, which eventually led to 1995’s “Relish” — “that rare breed of album where critical consensus, popular approval and enduring appeal unite,” according to American Songwriter. 

Since then, Osborne’s performed with Motown’s revered rhythm section, the Funk Brothers, and toured with the Dead (where she first met and sang with Bob Dylan). She’s harmonized with Stevie Wonder at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, duetted with Luciano Pavarotti, and co-headlined a tour with the legendary Mavis Staples. She has amassed a loyal fan base as she’s continuously traveled the country.

Radio Waves

Osborne recently released an album called “Radio Waves,” which was a product of having time to “clean my house from top to bottom” while on tour hiatus during the pandemic, she said. 

Osborne noted that she’s played thousands of songs live, and while she loves to do it, it is interesting how fleeting that moment of creativity is for performers — if it isn’t recorded, it’s just gone.

“A vast majority of my life’s work just lived in the moment,” she said.
 
So she was happy to find boxes full of recordings during her cleanup. 

“I had boxes that were sealed in the back of my closet that I had probably moved from my last home 10 years ago and never opened,” she said. “They were audio files — CDs and cassettes — hundreds of all these live performances from different situations, rehearsals from the late 1980s, and high-quality radio performances from throughout my career.” 

Had times been normal, she said, she would’ve had no time to go through them and probably just taped the box back up. But having downtime during the pandemic gave her the chance to give the recordings a listen.

“I have to say I was pretty happy the way they sounded — all these different capsules of performing live,” she said.

The time that has passed since listening to these performances helped Osborne be less of her own worst critic, she said.

“The time I had that I couldn’t go out on the road made me appreciate these things. It is kind of like when you are in high school and think, ‘Oh my God, I’m so awkward,’ but then you can look back and think, ‘Why didn’t I understand how beautiful I was?’” she said.

In selecting songs for “Radio Waves,” Osborne said she and her team wanted to choose moments from different points in her life, but also show varied types of songs that came together in a cohesive album — one that she wanted to create for her fans while she was unable to tour. 

The songs range from Osborne’s original hits like “St. Theresa” and “One of Us,” which earned a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year, to covers of songs by Bill Withers, Bob Dylan and James Taylor. 

Influences

Osborne said she cites gospel and blues singers like Etta James, Otis Redding and Al Green as inspirations.

“I started out singing in these blues clubs in New York City, and they were the first people I really idolized as singers,” she said. “They are the kind of singers who have this really emotional delivery — completely inhabiting the songs and putting all of their emotions into it.” 

She continued, “I’m not going to be the next Etta James or Otis Redding, but I do want to find that in myself when I perform. It’s so freeing. I still try to reach for that.”

She also cites rock influences like Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith and The Rolling Stones.

Poetry

Beyond music, Osborne said poet Walt Whitman is a huge influence on herself and her work. She considers him a “trailblazer,” noting he did more than just influence American literature. 

“Walt Whitman is like a wellspring of a lot of great American poetic tradition, which then went into the songwriting tradition too,” she said. “I think there’s something about the way he conceived of our connection to the earth and the universe as being (an) innately spiritual thing, and our connection to each other as an innately spiritual thing.” 

Osborne said Whitman perceived spirituality as a natural thing at a time when it was mostly tied to organized religion. 
 
“He saw it in a different way, and everything he wrote — like the poem ‘I Sing the Body Electric’ — it was very much about what is innately holy in me, and in this connection that I feel to other people and to the world around me, that is kind of what music is about,” she said. 

Osborne feels music has an important job to do, especially in a world that is so tied to technology and screens. 

“There’s something about music and, in particular, live music, that can connect us to each other in a primal way that is very spiritual,” she said.  

“I think many people no longer have an organized religion or practice organized religion — music is needed to strengthen those connections that we need to feel for each other in order to just live our life to the fullest as individuals, but also not destroy ourselves, and the planet, (along) with us,” she said. 

Record label

Osborn created her own record label, Womanly Hips, out of necessity — whenever she did live shows, people would ask her where they could buy her music.

“I thought, I guess I better make an album to sell,” she said. 

But Osborne’s most frequent advice for artists starting out is this: “Do as much as you can on your own.”

“The more you do on your own, you not only understand how things work, but you have a better sense of your own power and the self-confidence to walk into any of the rooms of the next record label and show you are able to take it to the next level,” she said.

The music industry makes everyone “ripe for exploitation,” Osborne added — there’s a pressured feeling that there are “100 people behind you ready to take your place.”

“But if you know yourself, and you have built an audience and connections, the more you can develop on your own,” she said. 

The show

Osborne has played for some the largest crowds imaginable — including at the Olympics — but she said there’s something about a more intimate venue that allows her to “explore shades of my voice,” noting it almost feels like you’re “whispering to someone.” 

“It’s a very different picture of the music itself,” she said.

And the revisiting of the classic work has been “very well received.”

“It’s an interesting re-imagining of these songs on ‘Relish’ and exploring different aspects of them for people who are fans,” she said.

Joan Osborne plays at the Garde on Friday, May 13 at 8 p.m. For more information or tickets, visit https://gardearts.org/events/joan-osborne-madeleine-peyroux/.